The urban environment of New York City would seem an unlikely beginning for a man who has spent so much of his life sailing. But Joe Sullivan Jr., born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx, has roots in eastern Long Island going back to the early 1940s when his father took him fishing in Greenport.
The first time Sullivan was taken out sailing as a youngster, the wind was blowing hard and he didn’t really care for the experience. He gave it another try, however, when he was 16, “and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.”
A lifetime of sailing has earned Sullivan, 79, the former coach of Fordham University’s coed and women’s sailing teams, the Intercollegiate Sailing Association’s Lifetime Services Award last month. Sullivan, who splits his time between living in Southold and New York City, was recognized with the honor at the ICSA National Championships in San Diego.
“Oh wow,” Sullivan replied when asked for his reaction. He said he was “truly humbled because I hadn’t thought about it. I wasn’t expecting it. It’s always nice to be recognized for the work that one does.”
This is the second time Sullivan has been recognized by the College Sailing Hall of Fame. He was awarded the ICSA Hall of Fame Outstanding Service – Volunteer Award in 2004-05.
Sullivan, who sailed for Fordham himself (Class of 1958), helped resurrect the Fordham sailing team in 2000 after a 27-year hiatus and stayed to serve as volunteer head coach for 12 years and director of sailing for four more years.
Sullivan guided Fordham’s women’s team to the 2011 ICSA national championship and its coed team to within six points of qualifying for the nationals. Since then, Fordham’s coed team has been ranked as high as No. 1 in the country and No. 6 among all varsity and club teams nationally. Since 2011, Fordham has qualified for national championships seven times; three times each for the coed and women’s championships and once for the Team Race Championship.
Today the program’s home port is at Morris Yacht & Beach Club on City Island, where it has a fleet of 24 sailboats and two powerboats.
Sullivan also took an active roll in the Middle Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association, bringing his corporate and entrepreneurial business experience to several committees.
Sullivan founded the Peconic Bay Broadcasting Corporation, which was the licensee of radio station WBAZ-FM, which he owned and operated for 12 years before selling it in 1997.
A devoted sailor himself, Sullivan joined the Fordham team as a freshman in 1955. “I fell in love with it, and I immersed myself in the sport,” he said.
Sullivan became and remains a member of the Southold Yacht Club, which he joined in 1969. “The racing bug bit me and I’ve been racing ever since,” he said. He has been racing on the national Sunfish circuit for over 30 years.
Sullivan said he enjoys the sport as much as ever, racing in Southold on Saturday afternoons and Monday nights.
“Sailing out on Southold Bay … can be so peaceful and so enjoyable,” he said. “You feel close to God and nature.”
Although he is retired, sailing keeps Sullivan busy. He will race in the New York State Downstate Regional Championship at the Bay Shore Yacht Club this weekend. On Aug. 13, he will participate, for the 44th time, in the World’s Longest Sunfish Race, Around Shelter Island, NY.
Sullivan was unable to attend the awards ceremony in San Diego, so he asked team captains Madeleine Sims, Johanna Monro and Alecsander Tayler to represent him and relay a message. Part of it read: “I could not have worked with a finer group of young adults than the sailors on the Fordham team. No retiree could ask for a better situation than I had. I was blessed with the job and am humbled by this award. To be honored for doing what I love is simply icing on the cake.”
Photo caption: Joe Sullivan, a member of the Southold Yacht Club and a former Fordham University sailor and coach, has received college sailing’s Lifetime Service Award. (Credit: courtesy photo)